One of the most engaging topics a study group can have is about Happiness.
We started out being treated to a photograph of a beautiful, red 1951 Ford named “Ruby”. Turns out that Ruby was recently purchased to fill a long-term void that extended back to high school when this dentist had to endure the embarrassment of having his father drive him and his date to the senior prom. He never really had a car of his own, and through his adult years, whenever a new car was purchased he ended up with the old one and his wife with the new one. He now was able to enjoy the happiness of a new car all his own. Beyond the car, he has begun discovering the enjoyment of gathering with other aficionados to socialize.
Another colleague described his ongoing interest in Lionel trains which he has set up in nearly each home in which he has lived since being a child. He has added to his collection over the years and derives joy from his interaction with his children, grandchildren and friends. In addition, his 1976 MG provides hours of enjoyment.
Another of our members traced his current woodworking hobby to his father’s woodworking and the tools that have remained in his basement for years. This dentist’s rekindled hobby has also provided him with a new social circle as he spends weeks at a time at woodworking camps with others of similar mind.
We were curious about the fact that these people derived enjoyment from things that provided a connection with their youths. There must be LOTS of people who have similar feelings.
Another of our members finds joy in his dentistry and learning new things, expanding his dental skill “tool box”. Still in full time private practice he feels grateful to be a dentist where he is his own boss. He is able to balance this meticulous profession with a passionate hobby of music. He plays in swing bands and finds the creative challenge of improvisational solos to take him out of the dentist-box of perfectionism into the zone of spontaneous expression. He also sings in an a cappella vocal group serving hospice clients and those experiences help him get out of himself in service. He expressed that loving and being loved in return as important to his happiness.
Physical beauty was touched upon. When we are happy with our looks, we tend to be more confident, and people respond to us in more positive ways . One of our dentists had his own teeth reconstructed and felt that it made a big difference in social interactions. There was some speculation that people desiring cosmetic surgery are unhappy with themselves in the first place, and that the surgery just removes that dissatisfaction. We all know, however, that we, as dentists, can have a huge positive influence on people’s lives through our dentistry that improves their smiles. Having that ability to improve people’s lives often provides greater satisfaction to the dentist than the monetary remuneration.
Sometimes we don’t appreciate the joy we receive each day in the office with our patients. One dentist didn’t recognize the importance of this until retiring and becoming aware of that void of connecting with patients and feeling their sincere appreciation for his care.
It was speculated that some people may be “hard-wired” for happiness. They just seem to be happy all the time, and it must be in their genes. We acknowledged that of course we are all different. However, there is plenty of evidence that we can have a great influence in our happiness experience. One piece is neurolinguistics, and how our choice of words influences our thoughts and behaviors. Our “self-talk” has been shown to greatly influence our outlook on life. Also, Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project is a concrete example of intentionally pursuing happiness though the application of specific actions. The author felt distinctly happier after her project than before. (It’s an excellent, easy-to-read book.) Then there is the old saying, “Act and you will become.”
How can those living a meager existence in poverty, feel happiness? One of our members observed older women in Haiti gathered together sewing a wedding dress. The joy, laughter, and apparent happiness of these women was perplexing in the context of the surrounding poverty. His observations of their joy again reinforced the value of socializing which served these women well. Why were these women so happy? Perhaps they only saw what they had, not what they didn’t have.
Over many years, observations like this stimulated another of our members to develop his own analysis of happiness, a balance of action with mind-set. His perspective of “Happiness” actually began in childhood with what was written on a tray by his mother: ”Happiness is: Something to do; Someone to love; and, Something to look forward to”. To this he has added over the years. “Something to give; and Something to be thankful for. “ He stated that in observations of other populations of people seemingly very poor, these actions and thoughts enable nearly anyone to experience happiness. This holds true for some people who have had horrific accidents and experiences and yet somehow manage to display a positive resilience that baffles observers.
The value of socializing appeared many times throughout our conversations. Not only does socializing improve happiness, but also as has been observed in populations of centenarians, and contributes to longevity. Loss of socialization is a great challenge in retirement, where coworkers, patients, and colleagues aren’t there anymore unless a conscious effort is made to continue the connections by other means.
Managing expectations is important. Disappointments seem to more often occur when a person establishes very high expectations compared to those who have more realistic expectations. It is important to manage one’s expectations by acknowledging that at times our expectations won’t be met, and if they are not met, that we just need to adjust our understanding of the situation. Happiness is often influenced by how we manage our expectations.
Another stimulating question was whether the pursuit of happiness is really a noble undertaking. One of us speculated that perhaps it is better to be doing good and that the pursuit of happiness is somewhat self centered. It was argued that since “happiness” is a condition, and “doing good” is an action, the two can’t really be contrasted. Rather, they are intimately connected, and that “doing good” can be an important component of happiness. Giving and serving others are actions that are well-recognized as ways to bring happiness to all involved.
Some aspects of happiness that we discovered:
- Reconnecting with childhood dreams and positive experiences.
- Feeling confident about one’s physical appearance
- Being able to help people feel better about themselves through the use of our skills as dentists.
- Appreciating what we have, as opposed to what we don’t have.
- Loving and being loved.
- Managing expectations. Realize that things don’t always work out as expected and be able to deal with it.
- We have a great ability to create and manage our happiness.
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